Lately I have been addicted to Crusader Kings. It is a grand strategy game set in Medieval Europe by Paradox Interactive. As the head of a dynasty, your aim is to gain prestige by conquering new lands to expand your realm. At the same time you must also gain piety through church work. At the end of the game, the dynasty with the best score wins.
Paradox Interactive is a Swedish video game developer and publisher. They are famous for their wide selection of historical strategy games. Some titles include Europa Universalis and Victoria. Apart from Crusader Kings, I also love their other title, Mount and Blade. TaleWorlds Entertainment, a Turkish company, developed the game while Paradox Interactive published it.
Crusader Kings is different from the many traditional empire-building games out there. But it is different in a way that adds depth and provides countless hours of entertainment. It requires strategic planning, diplomacy, covert tactics and patience to win this game. You can play Crusader Kings repeatedly without finding it boring due to its endless possibilities.
Choosing your dynasty
There are 3 scenarios in Crusader Kings; Hastings 1066, The Third Crusade 1187 and the Hundred Years War 1337. I like the 3rd scenario best. This was the period where the Byzantines had their last chance at revival. Also the 3rd scenario is the most developed in terms of technological advances for the provinces.
After choosing the scenario, you have to decide which dynasty to play as. I prefer to play as the emperor/king because they have the most power and wealth, with dukes and counts next in line. The theme of Crusader Kings is medieval feudalism and chivalry. So you can only play as the Catholic or Orthodox Christians. Regrettably, the Islamic Caliphates, the Mongols, the Papacy and the merchant republics are not playable.
Managing your dynasty
Each dynasty has its own court with its own courtiers. This is one of the coolest aspects of the game. As a ruler you can appoint your courtiers to various positions. The marshal manages your army. The chancellor handles your foreign relations and negotiations. The steward manages economic matters. The spy master handles internal security, intelligence gathering and assassinations. And, the diocese bishop manages ecclesiastic affairs. Your bishop may also become the Pope if you play as a Catholic dynasty. As the papal controller, your ruler gains additional powers. Each of these positions is vital to the development of your dynasty.
Crusader Kings also simulates the feel of managing your realm by allowing the following adjustments. It allows you to adjust your taxes to maximise income. You may also adjust your laws to regulate your government type, religion and inheritance. Finally, you can adjust your technological advances to suit your goals.
Expanding your dynasty
How you play Crusader Kings is entirely up to you. This is the beauty of the game. Unless you are attacking a religious enemy, you need a claim to a province before you can invade another dynasty. One way is to lay claim to a province through diplomacy and marriage. The other is to sacrifice prestige to usurp or fabricate a claim on a province to declare war. But do be careful with your reputation. A treacherous and unsavoury reputation makes you unpopular internally and externally. Soon, you may find yourself assailed on all sides by enemies.
A large part of the game involves patiently conserving your strength in readiness for an opportunistic strike. Battles are automatically resolved based on morale, power, equipment and tactics. Crusader Kings allows you to tilt the battle in your favour by assassinating skilled military figures in the enemy camp before the clash. In battle, enemy forces require time to amass, allowing you the possibility of destroying their armies piecemeal. After defeating the defenders, your army captures a province through a siege. All these factors add realism to Crusader Kings by mirroring the tactics of the Medieval Ages.
I am happy to see that Crusader Kings has female monarchs and courtiers. However, the drawback of female rulers is that they cannot lead their armies to battle personally. They have to rely on their marshals to expand their realm. But unless the ruler conquers each province personally, it goes to the marshal or the vassal who did so. Once a marshal claims the province for himself, he is relieved of his marshal duties when his army disbands. The next marshal may be less able. If you command a vassal to return a province, he may do so out of loyalty. But other vassals will be less loyal to you because they fear the loss of their own lands.
Managing your existing and newly acquired provinces
Each province consists of 4 classes of people; the peasants, the burghers, the clergy and the nobles. Imperial decree or events can affect the political power of each class in the province. This in turn affects the composition of your army and the taxes you receive.
Much of the fun lies in developing your province. You could develop roads, build castles and shipyards. A developed province is able to provide more income and troops which is vital to the expansion of your dynasty. I take pride knowing that my provinces are flourishing under my rule.
The importance of vassals
However, you can only have so many provinces under your direct control before inefficiency sets in. To avoid this problem, you have to ennoble some of your courtiers by making them counts or dukes of your provinces. But due to military incompetence, your vassals have an annoying tendency to lose their entire army in battle. Without armies to defend their territories, they lose their provinces as well. Only you can decide whether to practice nepotism or meritocracy.
The impact of random events
The strength of the game however lies in its ingenious development of characters. Each character has a set of attributes or skills. They are military, diplomatic, intrigue and stewardship. These attributes have a value that may change over time depending on various events in the game. Events are an integral part of the game that happens due to circumstances or chance. Events may or may not require you to make a choice. All of these factors combine to add great depth and richness to Crusader Kings.
For example, at the age of 5, you can decide if your children should have a military, courtly or ecclesiastical education. This will affect their attributes and development. Paying close attention to the education of your heir is vital to the survival of your dynasty. To prevent weak heirs from inheriting your dynasty, you can either change the inheritance laws or engineer unfortunate accidents. Many rulers in the Medieval Ages were not adverse to practicing favouritism when it came to the succession issue. Of course the surviving family members had to clean up the mess.
Provinces can also experience random events. In the 3rd scenario, the Black Plague swept across the Mediterranean during the 1300s. When the plague happens, it reduces your provincial income and manpower substantially. The only thing to do, which is what happened in reality, is to wait for the plague to subside before you expand again. It is such attention to detail that brings history to life.
Reflections of the Vizier
Crusader Kings allows you to immerse yourself in the chaos of the Medieval Ages. There are endless considerations as you deal with the weight of rule. You may choose to govern as a wise and just ruler. Or you may resort to all sorts of unscrupulous tactics to expand your realm. Apart from endless enemies, you also have to face random events which could make or break your dynasty at crucial points.
For me, I relish the opportunity of reshaping the Mediterranean with the Byzantines. After I tire of playing as the Byzantine emperor, I might try out a different perspective as an all powerful Byzantine duke or count. I may even follow those Byzantine landholders who usurped the throne. Or I could try out other dynasties in Europe. Whatever it is, I will be playing Crusader Kings for a long time to come.
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Disclaimer: All the images in this article are screenshots taken from Crusader Kings. They are copyrighted by Paradox Interactive and are not of my making.